Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

A Performance They Will Never Forget

The following is a re-print of a Facebook note written by Alyssa Berkowitz, a member of the UMass Minuteman Marching Band that lost its director last weekend (as chronicled in a previous post here).  In a fit of vestigial copyright awareness … I got her permission to pass this article on to people who may be unable to access it via Facebook.  Hang onto your hats: it’s beautiful and heartfelt; it’s wrenching and scary; there are moments that I imagine no UMMBer will forget, some that no UMMBer can bear to remember.  It shows exactly why I have never been prouder to be associated with that organization.

A Performance We Will Never Forget

by Alyssa Berkowitz on Monday, September 20, 2010 at 1:34pm

Before, I forget all the details, I wrote down the events that occurred before and after the death of Mr. Parks. I just spit out the events, sorry in advanced for grammatical errors. For those of you who aren’t in the band, I hope I can convey to you what it was like to lose such an incredible man.


The air was buzzing with excitement and a closeness that the UMMB experiences when we stay overnight in high school gyms. We were in Ohio getting ready for our final day before the big Michigan game. Caity Bodgan announces, “lights out” to the entire gym through the long ranger. Although the lights are off, there is still a lot of movement and communication across the gym. I reflect on the year before when things finally got settled in the gym and Andrew Costelloe broke the silence with the Swahili lyrics of the Lion King. I remembered how the gym roared in laughter and people were expecting something of that sort to happen again this year.

The band started to settle when the doors to the gym opened as the silhouette of a group of people slowly walked into the gym. It took me a minute to realize it was the staff of our band and wondered what they had to say. Thom Hannum was first and the others followed close behind creating what appeared to be a triangular formation. Thom’s mellow voice started to speak, “Today, after the performance, Mr. Parks actually collapsed. It turns out he had a heart attack. The paramedics did what paramedics do and he was rushed to the hospital. Everyone did what they could but unfortunately, he didn’t make it.”

There was a pause of shock in the gymnasium and then silence of the gym was interrupted by whaling and sobbing as Thom’s words caught up with the band. Thom proceeded to say, “Hug each other, this is the time when you need each other the most.” And at those words, the staff left the gym. The gymnasium lights switched on and everyone became restless. People first sat on their sleeping bags, most with a hand over their mouth and a look of horror in their eyes. Others buried their heads as their long sobs were muffled by their pillows. Eventually people made their way towards each other and sobbed as they held each other close. The band parents of the high school band stayed on the premises and stayed up with the band all night. The band formed a huge circle over 380 people in the gym and started to hum “My Way.” The hums became choking words as the ringing got louder:

And now, the end is near

And so I face the final curtain My friends, I’ll say it clear

I’ll state my case of which I’m certain

I’ve lived a life that’s full

I’ve traveled each and every highway

And more, much more than this I did it my way

The lyrics of our beloved band song we perform at every game suddenly took on a whole new meaning as the band acknowledged the fact that this was the last song Mr. Parks ever conducted. Everyone sobbed and swayed, choking on every word and holding each other close. Afterwards some people went out to the field and spent time there. Those who went out broke the silence of the cold Ohio air with “Detail, atten hut!” and in response the others responded “HUT”

Noone really slept that night and the rehearsal planned for the morning was cancelled while Thom  and the rest of the staff tried to figure out what to do next. Many phone calls were made and the decision was made that we would continue on to Michigan. It was Mr. Parks’ dream to perform in Michigan Stadium with the UMMB and the Michigan marching band and that was what we were going to do.


As the UMMB boarded the buses in the morning with tear stained faces, the high school band appeared down the street and paraded by us in their school outfits to acknowledge the loss we had experienced and that they had indirectly experienced as well. We started bawling. It was so touching that the high school band pulled together to show their appreciation and condolences for our band. After that, our band got on the buses and headed to Michigan.

We showed up to rehearse the night before the big game as the Michigan band watched our rehearsal. We did our awesome warm -ups like we always do and we just marched our drill while Thom and John Leonard did their best to direct the rehearsal that Mr. Parks would have normally directed. The band got off the bus with positive energy, enthusiasm, and excitement and was greeted by the kind faces of the Michigan marching band. In the Meantime, Michael Klesch abandoned his plans at home when he heard the news and jumped on a plane to be with us. The entire band was so happy and fortunate to have Michael Klesch there in such a time of need. Stronger than ever, the UMMB was determined to perform the best show they have ever performed in remembrance of George Parks.


At 5am we woke up and cleared the gym to head to the Michigan stadium for a rehearsal. In full uniform, the band rehearsed. Soon it was 10am and time to go to the game. We prepared for our pregame show that preceded Michigan’s very impressive high step pre-game. As our football team finished the first half of the game in the lead, the band got on the field to perform Madonna. Everyone was prouder than ever and determined to grasp the attention of the 110,187 fans in the stands. The announcer declared a moment of silence for George Parks and then we began our half time. Louder than ever, we blew down Michigan stadium. The fans, who normally Boo other bands, were so supportive. They gave us high fives on the way back to our seats and gave us a standing ovation. The Michigan coach later told us that their crowd has never responded to another band like that. Some of the feedback we received from the fans were, “Wow, their band is louder than our band.” and, “Their band really knows how to have fun.” A comment the Michigan band staff made to us was that we are such a respectful an easy band to work with, which they are not used to.

Throughout the game, people from Michigan were kind enough to express their deepest sorrows to the band, in addition to the Michigan football coach. We were touched. As we left the stadium that day, only having lost the game by 1 touchdown, the Michigan fans and parents congratulated us and told us the we were a great, great band. I felt proud to be part of George Parks’ band.We drove back to Ohio and spent our last night in the same school we stopped at on the way there. The band parents of that school prepared the biggest buffet of food I have ever seen in my life with beverages galore. It was incredible. I was blown away by the kindness of all of the people we encountered this weekend.


The band headed home to Amherst. Laughter filled the buses again and everyone did the best they could to cope with the shocking weekend. The Alumni dropped everything and visited the Old Chapel on campus and rang the bell. The whole campus is currently mourning the loss.The memorial events continue as Alumni and friends of George Parks are flooding into the UMass campus. We are a huge family and we will always be a family.

Although tragic, the death of Mr. Parks has created a positive and loving environment for the UMMB. The band, Alumni, and everyone connected to the band, is closer than ever. Thom Hannum, Kirstin Becker, John Leonard, Michael Klesch, and many others did an amazing job running the band in such circumstances while they tried to mask their own emotions on a professional level.

Today, the band will face the reality of Mr. Parks’ absence. The worst is still not over but we know Mr. Parks was there with us in Michigan and he is always watching over us.

Eyes with Pride.

You will be missed.


September 22, 2010 - Posted by | band, drum major, Facebook, football, GNP, heroes, journalism, marching band, music, news, social media, Thom Hannum, UMMB, writing


  1. Thank you for posting this, Rob.

    Thank you for writing this, Alyssa.

    Thank you for everything else, George.

    Comment by Craig Jennings | September 22, 2010 | Reply

  2. Brought tears to my eyes. I can’t imagine what it must have been like.

    Comment by Rick Hirsch | September 23, 2010 | Reply

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